Fans of Edward Dmytryk’s CROSSFIRE will find THE SNIPER just as fascinating to watch. Again Dmytryk helms a gritty noir about a killer sought by the law. Given his mastery of the genre, there’s no better person to film the story, something that factored into producer Stanley Kramer’s decision to hire the blacklisted director. This was Dmytryk’s first Hollywood movie after a short period of political exile in Britain where he made two other bleak crime pictures (OBSESSION and GIVE US THIS DAY).
Adolphe Menjou is cast as an aging police detective in San Francisco, and he turns in a credible performance. But Arthur Franz, as a parolee who takes his hatred out on women by randomly murdering them, makes a greater impression. Franz and Menjou share top billing, but since Franz receives more screen time and has the more compelling role, it feels like his story from start to finish.
Columbia provided Kramer and Dmytryk with enough money to take the cast and crew to northern California, so there are quite a few outdoor scenes filmed in San Francisco. Long tracking shots add extra realism. Plus we have plenty of tense close-ups where Franz’s character aims his rifle and readies to bring down another unsuspecting victim.
There are scenes where Menjou and the other officers consult a psychologist (Richard Kiley) after lineups fail to net any results. In their meetings together they try to understand the mind of the assailant. They gather what evidence they have and attempt to determine his next move, as impossible as it may seem.
Kiley has the most important speeches in the movie, about the definition of legally sane versus legally insane, and he facilitates a discussion about how to cure repeat offenders. Mixed into the debate are comments from Menjou’s superiors on allocating tax dollars for more law enforcement, as well as jabs made at the media for exploiting the hysteria. In this regard, there is much to ponder. Despite the occasional preachiness of the script, Dmytryk is still able to keep the action sequences a priority.
All the killings are shockingly depicted. When a piano bar singer (Marie Windsor) is slain, she dies in front of her poster outside the club where she works. She is brushing dust off the poster when she is shot. It’s very unexpected. In another scene a floozie hands Franz her phone number and address (dumb thing to do, lady) then is shot through the window of her apartment as she prepares herself for bed. That time we know the murder is coming because Franz sent a warning to the cops.
There is also the part when a tower painter sees Franz on a rooftop about to shoot some women below. He tries to warn them, but takes a bullet and falls to his death. This leads to an exciting conclusion, with Franz running up a long hill, followed by Menjou and his men in pursuit. They will bring him to justice if it’s the last thing they do. When the cops finally corner him in a boarding house, we get the film’s most memorable image– a sad man holding on to something that will soon be taken away from him.
THE SNIPER airs on TCM occasionally.